By Tunde Osibamowo
On the 4th of August, 2020 a real-time ‘woman of substance’ passed on to the great beyond. She was not famous nor a possessor of great wealth; she simply was a woman “who lived to a grand old age of over 92 years, who in the course of her long life raised a large and very successful family, ‘mothered’ many younger women, was an ‘influencer’ even before we recognised the important place influencers can play in modern society and, more importantly she was a staunch and devoted Catholic”.
Mrs Theresa Osibamowo was born in Lagos on the 29th of February 1928 into the family Chief Ignatius Washington Osilaja. Theresa’s mother was Augusta Aderigbigbe Koya, a princess from Ile Ijosi, Ilesi, Ijebu-Ode. They had five children, all of blessed memory, with Theresa being the third.
Chief Oshilaja, the Madasa of Ijebu Ode, a wealthy man in Lagos Island knighted in the Catholic Order of Saint Sylvester, was the first trained printer in West Africa with the Ife Olu Printing Press and; was an elder statesman and kingmaker instrumental in the building of the Holy Cross Cathedral, Lagos and St Sebastian’s Church, Ijebu Ode.
The young Theresa started her education in Ibadan and secondary education at the Holy Rosary College, Enugu; one of the original set of students. This period of her life explains her lifelong warmth and closeness to people of Igbo descent. Unknown to many, during the civil war when it was dangerous to be an Igbo in Lagos, she secretly housed many Igbo families and supported their flights back to the East.
Mama Theresa’s travelled to the UK to study at Pitmans College in the early 1940’s. In 1956, she got married in England to Mr Julius Olatunji Osibamowo, a young civil engineer from Ikenne Remo in Ogun State. They had 3 children Tunde, Efunbo and Yemi and returned to Lagos expecting their fourth child Ibilola, an ex-General Counsel of this Thisday Newspaper and currently a Ph.D candidate in Legal Technology, UK . Folasade and Olaleke were then added to the fold. Much emphasis was placed on academic par excellence achievements, hence she successfully nurtured with tender loving care two engineers, two medical doctors, one lawyer and one architect.
Fondly referred to as Mymama, she was blessed with many sons/daughters-in-law, grandchildren and great children. A well-read woman, an avid reader of Catholic publications in Latin and a regular reader of Thisday Newspaper; the Publisher who she fondly remembered from the 90’s.
Mama Theresa worked at the Lagos City Council with the Lagos Town Clerk, and became secretary of the O&G Department in LUTH enabling her to fulfil her heartfelt desire to make a real difference, utilising her organisational skills in the healthcare. With her husband, they established one of the first indigenous engineering companies, Efbiko Engineering Ltd which rivalled notable international construction firms like Julius Berger etc. Efbiko grew rapidly with construction projects all over Nigeria such as the development of the Festac Estate.
She was a successful entrepreneur, establishing a number of trading companies and, literally travelled all over the world, trading with various countries in Africa, USA, Europe and Asia.
In the mid 80’s, Mama Theresa decided to devote her life to serving the Lord in the Catholic church. She worked with a church team on the modernisation of St Agnes Church in Maryland, and was active in mobilising the church’s congregation to participate in serving God. She influenced many women to give their time, money, and love to doing God’s work and worked with the church to create the ‘Day with Mary’ movement. Also, she supported the addition of 2 extra missions in Nigeria; the Franciscan Monastery in Shagamu and the Benediction Monastery at Sangotedo, Lekki.
As Alexander the Great stated ”it is a lovely thing to live with courage and die leaving an everlasting fame.. in the end when it’s all over, all that matters is what you’ve done”. Mama Theresa indeed has left an everlasting fame! As during her lifetime she engaged with and influenced numerous young catholic women, who became lifelong friends. She encouraged them to be loyal dutiful wives, organised and neat homemakers with a super dose of patience, endurance & long suffering with their spouses. She was a pragmatic advocate of the fact that it was crucial to invest financially, emotionally and spiritually in the lives of their children, applying the biblical injunction of “train your children, to have peace”.
In 1990’s, Theresa emigrated to U.K continuing her evangelisation mission of mobilising Catholic parishioners attending St Peter’s Church Woolwich, the Catholic Church at Camberwell and the Westminster Abbey. With powerful dogmatism, she again introduced the ‘Day with Mary’ prayer excursions to several cities all over England. As the Chairman of ‘Ajoda; an NGO in partnership with Greenwich Borough for Elderly people of African-Caribbean descent, she organised events such as soirees, barbecues and holiday break excursions in UK.
Reiterating over thirty years, she passionately travelled to religious sites such as the Vatican City, Jerusalem and then strategically mapped out and commenced on a geographic expedition visiting ALL the sites of the Apparition’s of Mary in Poland, Portugal, France, Medjugorje and Lourdes etc, before finally relocating back in 2019.
This great lady was a lover of humanity, a motivator, a prayer warrior, a fashionista, a indefatigable business entrepreneur, a philanthropist, a faithful Catholic, a missionary, a pastoral guide to many peoples all over the world, a detribalised Nigerian, an older sister and best friend to many, and indeed a mother to a large extended family from Ikenne, Ijebu-Ode, Ghana, Anambra state, Benue state, Hong Kong and the Philippines.
She is survived by her husband, children, in-laws, grandchildren and great grandchildren, together with her extended Oshilaja family and her beloved church family.
*Osibamowo is SSA to the President on Service Delivery